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Boarding barn atmosphere

From: Anne


I think a lot of people may have this problem. At my barn there are two very obnoxious teenage girls. They have been spoiled and are lucky enough to have their parents pay for everything horsey. The problem is that they are very annoying to be around - they make snobby comments about the other boarders' horses, and are just generally rude. This has affected me and the other boarders by making us not want to go to the barn when they are there. This is extremely inconvenient, and has turned riding into a chore, not a joy. Do you have any suggestions for making this situation more bearable?

Many thanks for your invaluable service,


Hi Anne! This is one of the most common problems encountered at a boarding stable, and it's never easy to deal with. It's not as bad as having other boarders doing things that are flat-out dangerous to the horses, but it can spoil a peaceful, enjoyable atmosphere, IF it's bad enough, or if you LET it.

First, remember that these are KIDS. That may help you keep it in perspective. Just how bad is the situation? Are they constantly making audible comments about other boarders and their horses? Are they loud? Are they really vicious, or just repeating thoughtless comments that they've heard some adult make at a competition? And just how old are they? There's a big difference between thirteen and nineteen. Is there any chance that you can just consider the source - these are kids, their opinion of you doesn't matter - and let it go? If you can ignore them, in the same way that you would ignore someone's silly little yappy barking dog, they may become bored and find something else to do with their time.

You can take several different approaches to the problem, depending on your sense of just how severe the problem is.

The direct approach often works. You might just try treating the girls as adults, and saying to them "It really hurts my feelings when I hear you saying bad things about my horse and my riding. It's making me feel uncomfortable when I come out to ride." Some teenagers really don't mean to be cruel, but they simply have no idea that adults even have feelings, much less have feelings that can be hurt, much much less have feelings that can be hurt by a teenager. If that's the case, making the girls aware of the fact that their remarks are hurtful may be all that's necessary to get them to stop. Teenagers often feel powerless, and imagine that all adults are strong and independent and always at ease in every situation - and sometimes the nasty remarks come from nothing but teenage insecurity. They're not mature enough to understand that being NICE is a form of power - they think that the only way to assert themselves around others is to be rude or unkind. This does make you wonder what their parents are like, and what they've been taught at home, doesn't it? ;-) If you take this approach, be sure that you make it clear you aren't objecting to their age, their hair, their clothing, or their parents' money - your ONLY problem is with that specific behaviour.

Ignoring them is another possibility - if you are talking with YOUR friends, or you are listening to your Walkman, or you are really focused on whatever you are doing with your horse, even if it's just grooming and tacking up, you won't hear them criticizing you and you won't get as angry. And eventually they are bound to find something else to talk about - even if they can't say anything positive about anyone else or anyone else's horse, wait until they go to their first show of the season - it'll take them at least a week afterward to finish dishing every other rider, their horses, the judge, and the show manager, and that should give you and your fellow boarders a break. ;-)

If you're sure that the direct approach won't have the effect you want, or you've already tried it and you KNOW that it hasn't had the effect that you want, and you can't possibly ignore the girls, you can employ basic avoidance tactics. This doesn't have to mean scheduling your rides for those times when you are sure the girls won't be around. That's one way - avoidance in time - but you can avoid other boarders in time OR in space. If you're there at the same time, be sure that you are in a different space. If the people you dislike are in the indoor school, ride in the outdoor school, and vice versa. Don't set yourself up to become angry and frustrated - you'll have a bad ride and your horse will suffer.

Meanwhile, other than asking them if they realize that their words are hurtful, don't try to discipline the girls yourself - that's not your place. You aren't in a position to tell these girls how to behave. However, you can and should take this problem to the barn owner.

If you and other boarders are annoyed and upset to such a degree that it's ruining your time at the barn, you are probably already thinking about moving to another barn. If you are considering taking your business elsewhere, for heaven's sake get together and talk to the barn owner FIRST. If the owner isn't ever present when these girls are being rude and obnoxious, s/he may not be aware of the extent of the problem. Make it clear, in a calm, non-accusatory way, that you and your fellow boarders are very unhappy with the behaviour of these girls and are even more unhappy with the need to change YOUR schedules to come out at times when the girls are elsewhere. Then WAIT quietly and let the barn owner come up with a solution. Hint: if the choice is between well-behaved, considerate boarders and badly-behaved, rude ones, s/he's likely to ask the teens to shape up or ship out.

Don't let anyone tell you that constant rudeness and nasty remarks are just part of normal teenager behaviour. I've taught hundreds of teenagers, and most of the horsey teens I know are nice, bright, interesting people who work hard at their riding and are devoted to their horses. If you're dealing with a couple of exceptionally horrid teens, it's quite possible that the barn owner will first try to get them to modify their behaviour, and then, if they don't improve, ask them to take their horses elsewhere. Good boarding stables usually have a long waiting list, and I'm sure that those two stalls would be filled very quickly.

So, as a last option, if nothing is done about the situation even once you've made it clear to the manager that you find it unacceptable, you and your friends might consider going elsewhere. There are barns that cater to adults, and there may be another facility where you and your friends might feel more at home. But don't expect a move to solve all your problems. Good barn owners and stable managers do their very best to bring polite, considerate, compatible boarders into their facility, but whenever you have a group of people, there is bound to be an occasional unpleasantness or source of friction. Even at barns that cater exclusively to adults, even at barns that cater exclusively to adults in a single riding discipline, there can be unpleasant remarks, snobbishness, and personality clashes. The way we live makes the situation even more difficult - if you're coming to the barn after a long, hard, frustrating day at work, it's possible that you are so much on edge that you may be overreacting to the girls' behaviour. I'm not saying that you are - I'm not there, and I don't know - but do consider the possibility. At the same time that you are coming out exhausted and ready for a peaceful ride to recharge your batteries, the girls are probably coming out after a full day of school, and are bursting with energy that needs to be released. Running around the block a time or two would be a better choice than hanging around and being rude about other people's horses, but teenagers (just like adults!) can't always be counted on to make the best choices.

The one thing you and your friends should NOT do under any circumstances is complain only to one another. You need to solve the problem in some way. Confront, avoid, ask the barn owner to intervene, or - as a last resort - leave. But don't put yourself into a situation that makes you miserable - you enjoy riding, you love your horse, you like to spend time with your own friends at the barn. It's supposed to be a pleasant experience - remember, WE DO IT FOR FUN. If it isn't fun, you have to take steps so that it can become fun once again.

Good luck!


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